by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.
As we begin to examine the relationship between the Old Religion and the Catholic Church, one thing must be clear. This book is not an attack on the Catholic Church. The Church, as we know it today, is a wonderful organization. It is charitable, supportive of many great institutions and a patron of learning. Naturally, no one can agree with everything the Church does or thinks. We are entitled to disagreement, which, in turn, boosts progress. However, while part of the historical clash of the religions is painful, it is not told as criticism of the Church today. Over many centuries, the Church evolved into the larger and richer organization we now know.
In addition, many of those responsible for the terror of the Witch Trials were more administrators than men of God. They wanted property and power. Much like some corrupt politicians, they thought that the end justified the means. On the other hand, some Christians truly believed in the influence of the Devil, believed it with all their hearts, and thought that by tormenting the body they saved the soul. It is difficult to understand, in our century, how deeply superstitious most Medieval people were, and how much the supernatural threatened their lives. Many acted out of ignorance and terror.
In 906, Regino, abbot of Prum, wrote an interesting document. It became known as the Canon Episcopi. Few documents in history were so misunderstood; few caused so much violence.
Regino described the habits of some misguided women who believed in their own hallucinations and illusions. These women thought that the Pagan Goddess, Diana, flew them over great distances. At those faraway places, they worshiped her and her husband, the Devil. Regino, a compassionate man, made it clear that he believed the Devil himself was responsible. The Devil made the poor women think that what happened in their dreams really took place.
Sure, Regino was frustrated by the women’s stupidity – how could they think that any god could exist away from the one true faith, Christianity? However, not for a moment did he believe in the flights, the Sabbaths, or anything else the women said they had done.
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